In an effort to stop speaking in fluent IKEA (see post below) I’ve spent some of the weekend learning by heart the South African national anthem in Xhosa. My new year’s resolution, such as it was, being a promise to myself to learn an anthem a month for the year and Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa) having always had a huge effect on me since it was the battle hymn of the ANC during the apartheid era.
I think my mother or father must have had it on cassette at one point when I was a child and along with albums of ‘Missa Luba’ and William Byrd’s masses, it sparked a life-long love of a cappella singing. When Sir Richard Attenborough’s film ‘Cry Freedom’ came out in 1987 I remember being profoundly moved by its use in the funeral sequence when it was sung by such massed, beautiful voices that my heart soared and my closed eyes wept at the pure emotion of it. Never was this truer than when Nelson Mandela decreed in 1994 that it would be one of the two official anthems of the Republic, the other being the previous, sole anthem ‘Die Stem’ (The Call of South Africa).
On Mandela’s arrival in the UK as President for the first time, I remember being saddened and embarrassed that I didn’t know the words and could only hum along to the tune. It’s a good feeling to finally complete a challenge that I should have set myself many years ago and as I write this I can’t think why I haven’t done it before. The task for February will be the Star Spangled Banner, which I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never even thought of learning.
There are many versions of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, my choice was the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which I am proud to announce that I can now sing from start to finish. Even with the Xhosa click in the third verse. I’ve never had a party piece before. You have all been warned.
I’m off to read Koestler and Swarup, the former’s ‘Scum of the Earth’ for the first time, the latter for the third having originally read a book called ‘Q&A’, in order to interview the delightful Vikas Swarup. His book has just been republished under the title “Slumdog Millionaire”. I can’t think why.